William Hague, Foreign Secretary until today’s cabinet reshuffle, made a statement in the House of Commons yesterday on the UK response to the Gaza crisis and the need for a ceasefire.
The former Foreign Secretary, who was today replaced by Philip Hammond, told the Commons:
“Mr Speaker, with permission I will make a statement to the House on Gaza.
“The House is aware that despite intense efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down at the end of April and are currently paused.
“Since then there have been several horrific incidents including the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the burning alive of a Palestinian teenager. We utterly condemn these barbaric crimes. There can never be any justification for the deliberate murder of innocent civilians.
“These rising tensions have been followed by sustained barrages of rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Between 14 June and 7 July 270 rockets were fired by militants into Israel, which Israel responded to with air strikes. Rockets are fired indiscriminately against the civilian population, including against major Israeli cities.
“Israel then launched Operation Protective Edge on 7th July. Israeli Defence Forces have struck over 1470 targets in Gaza and over 970 more rockets have been fired towards Israel. 240 Israelis have been injured.
“In Gaza, as of today, at least 173 Palestinians have been killed, and 1,230 injured. The UN estimates that 80% of those killed have been civilians, of whom a third are children.
“We have acted swiftly to ensure the safe departure of British Nationals wanting to leave Gaza. Late last night we successfully assisted the departure of 27 British nationals and their Palestinian dependants from Gaza, through Israel to Jordan for onward travel. I am grateful to the UN, FCO staff in London, Gaza, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Amman and to the Israeli and Jordanian authorities for their work to ensure the success of this operation.
“The whole House will share our deep concern at these events. This is the third major military operation in Gaza in six years. It underlines the terrible human cost, to both sides, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it comes at a time when the security situation in the Middle East is the worst it has been in decades.
“The people of Israel have the right to live without constant fear for their security and the people of Gaza also have the fundamental right to live in peace and security. There are hundreds of thousands of extremely vulnerable civilians in Gaza, who bear no responsibility for the rocket fire and are suffering acutely from this crisis. And the Israeli Defence Forces estimate that 5million Israeli civilians live within range of rockets fired from Gaza.
“Israel has a right to defend itself against indiscriminate attacks. But it is vital that Gaza’s civilian population is protected. International humanitarian law requires both sides to distinguish between military and civilian targets and to enable unhindered humanitarian access.
“The UK has three objectives – to secure a ceasefire, to alleviate humanitarian suffering, and to keep alive the prospects for peace negotiations which are the only hope of breaking this cycle of violence and devastation once and for all. I will briefly take each of these in turn:
“First, there is an urgent need for a ceasefire agreed by both sides that ends both the rocket fire and the Israeli operations against Gaza, based on the ceasefire agreement that ended the conflict in November 2012.
“Reinstating that agreement will require a concerted effort between Israelis, Palestinians and others such as the authorities in Egypt, with the support of the international community. All those with influence over Hamas must use it to get Hamas to agree to end rocket fire.
“We are in close contact with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and our partners and allies. The Prime Minister spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on 9 July, and I have spoken in the last few days to President Abbas, Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman and Strategic Affairs Minister Steinitz, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Shukri. As Arab Foreign Ministers meet tonight, I have just discussed the situation with the Foreign Ministers of Jordan and Qatar.
“On 10th July the UN Secretary-General told the Security Council that there was a risk of an all-out escalation in Israel and Gaza and appealed for maximum restraint. He had been in contact with leaders on both sides and other international leaders, underlining his concern about the plight of civilians and calling for bold thinking and creative ideas.
“On Saturday we joined the rest of the Security Council at the UN in calling for de-escalation of the crisis, the restoration of calm and reinstatement of the November 2012 ceasefire. We are ready to consider further action in the Security Council if that can help secure the urgent ceasefire that we all want to see.
“Yesterday I held discussions in the margins of the Iran Vienna talks with Secretary Kerry and my French and German counterparts, to consider how to bring about this objective.
“Once a ceasefire is agreed, it will be vitally important that its terms are implemented in full by both sides, including a permanent end to rocket attacks and all other forms of violence.
“Implementation of that agreement must only be part of a wider effort to improve conditions in Gaza. Without that, we are likely to see further such cycles of violence. This should include the restoration of Palestinian Authority control in Gaza, the opening up of legitimate movement and access and a permanent end to the unacceptable threat of rocket attacks and other forms of violence.
“Second, we will do all we can to help alleviate humanitarian suffering in Gaza. At least 17,000 Gazans are seeking shelter with the UN. Hundreds of thousands are suffering shortages of water, sanitation and electricity, and stocks of fuel and medical supplies are running dangerously low.
“Over half of the population was already living without adequate access to food before the crisis, the large majority reliant on aid and many unemployed. The UK is providing £349m for humanitarian relief, state-building and economic development for Palestinians up to 2015, and providing around £30m a year to help the people of Gaza.
“We are the third biggest donor to the UN Relief and Works Agency General Fund and our support has enabled them to respond to the crisis by continuing to provide crucial health services to 70% of the population, sheltering 17,000 displaced people, and by distributing almost 30,000 litres of fuel to ensure that emergency water and sewage infrastructure can operate.
“DFID is helping to fund the World Food Programme, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the UN Access Co-ordination Unit. With our support, these organisations are providing food to insecure people, helping to repair damaged infrastructure, getting essential supplies into Gaza, getting medical cases out and delivering emergency medical care.
“My Right Honourable Friend the Minister of State for International Development has spoken to Prime Minister Hamdallah, and DfID stands ready to do more as necessary.
“Third, a negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict once and for all and to achieve a sustainable peace so that Israeli and Palestinian families can live without fear of violence. No other option exists which guarantees peace and security for both peoples.
“I once again pay tribute to Secretary Kerry’s tireless efforts to secure a permanent peace. The prospects for negotiations of course look bleak in the middle of another crisis in which civilians are paying the heaviest price. But it has never been more important for leaders on both sides to take the bold steps necessary for peace.
“For Israel, this should mean a commitment to return to dialogue and to avoid all actions which undermine the prospects for peace, including settlement activity which does so much to undermine confidence in negotiations.
“For Hamas, it faces a fundamental decision about whether it is prepared to accept Quartet principles and join efforts for peace, or whether it will continue to use violence and terror with all the terrible consequences for the people of Gaza.
“The Palestinian Authority should show leadership, recommitting itself to dialogue with Israel and making progress on governance and security for Palestinians in Gaza as well as the West Bank.
“In all of these areas, the UK will play its role, working closely with the US and European colleagues, encouraging both sides back to dialogue, supporting the Palestinian Authority, keeping pressure on Hamas and other extremists, and alleviating the humanitarian consequences of conflict.
“There can be no substitute though for leadership and political will from the parties concerned. The world looks on in horror once again as Israel suffers from rocket attacks and Palestinian civilians die. Only a real peace, with a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, can end this cycle of violence. And it is only the parties themselves, with our support, who can make that peace.”